Sunday, June 30, 2019

Time Away

There is never enough time.

There are too many people to see, too many conversations to have, too many things to do in the time you have available, and so you have to choose and hope that it works out okay and that maybe next time you’ll get to some of the things and people that you missed this time around.

I spent this past week in Philadelphia, visiting my mom. 

Lauren and I drove out together, which was kind of nice – a last road trip together before she heads off to on her exchange program next year.  Mostly we listened to music.  I put her in charge of that.  It was better for everyone that way.

We stopped in Pittsburgh overnight, visiting our friends Mike, Krista, and Eli.  We always have a lovely time with them – dinner, conversation, and generally remembering once again that there are good people in the world even if there are too many miles between us. 

We got to my mom’s on Monday afternoon and settled in. 

At some point in your life there is a little switch in your head that flips and you say to yourself, “Huh.  Genealogy.  That sounds like fun.”  I hit that point a while ago and fortunately my mom shares this interest.  So I bought a little recorder and wrote up a list of questions that I cribbed from a couple of those reassuring books you can find online (Several Hundred Questions To Ask Your Relatives BEFORE IT’S TOO LATE!) and we spent most of the week on that.  I’d ask a question and sit back while she told stories about her life and her family – so many of them gone now, living on only in stories and memories.  I had a grand time, and I’m looking forward to the next visit when we can continue this project.

Lauren has reached the age where she is fairly independent but the genealogy switch hasn’t flipped over yet, so one day I dropped her off at the commuter rail station and she spent the day wandering around Center City Philadelphia.  It’s a strange thing to realize that your child is not really a child anymore – it’s a lesson that repeats as necessary and more frequently as they get older, though I suspect there will always be times when I need to be reminded even when she is my age now.  She enjoyed her time there.

This is good, because we did manage to squeeze in one other visit in this trip.  I’ve known Chris and Lori since my sophomore year of high school and had only seen them once each since the 1980s.  It turned out that Chris and her husband Sjoerd were going to be in the area – visiting from Amsterdam, where they live – and Lori and much of her family where also going to be in the area, returning from a vacation and on their way back home to Virginia, and somehow the timing worked out for all of us to meet at the Liberty Bell on a hot Wednesday afternoon.  Chris, Sjoerd, Lori, Lauren and I found a little coffee house and sat outside talking about family and giving tips to Lauren for her year abroad (Chris is an expat, Sjoerd a native, and Lori a former exchange student who ended up going to college there as well, so it worked out well).  It was a lovely afternoon.  Eventually Lori’s family joined us and we found a nice restaurant right on Washington Square for dinner and continued our conversations. 

My brother and niece came down the next day and we hung out a bit – Sara and Lauren explored the nearby town center while Keith and I stayed with Mom – and we had dinner at the same place my parents had their 50th Anniversary party back in 2013.

But eventually the time comes around and Lauren, Sara, and I drove back to Wisconsin – a long and for the most part uneventful ride, though there were more imbeciles than usual around Chicago.  We did make time to stop at the O in Pittsburgh for lunch.  The best fries in the world are at the O.  That’s a large.  They used to have an extra-large, presumably for wedding receptions and the like.

We make the best of the time we have, and if we’re lucky we get to do more later.

Friday, June 21, 2019

Rah, Summer

Technically it’s the first day of summer today, though everyone knows that summer either begins on the last day of school or Memorial Day, whichever you prefer, so it’s felt like summer for a while now.  A bit on the cool and rainy side compared to recent summers, but I’m okay with that.  My kind of weather really.

It’s been quite a summer so far.

Mostly busy.  They all are these days, beating back the alligators, trying to remember that the initial objective was to drain the swamp.  Honestly, I don’t know anyone with free time anymore. 

Summers used to be about free time, way back when in the Jurassic Age when I was a lad.  School would let out sometime in mid-June and there would be nothing in particular to accomplish until the first bell rang again on the Tuesday after Labor Day.  Two and a half months of glorious unstructured time.

It was mostly what I liked about summers back then, since they generally tend to be far too hot for my taste. 

This summer is just a blur.  Classes to teach.  Classes to revise.  Far too much computer work, most of which seems to be scientifically designed to get on my nerves (you mean the new course software doesn’t actually allow you to make submodules?  Seriously?  What halfwitted never-set-foot-in-a-classroom misanthrope designed a piece of educational software that doesn’t allow you to make submodules?) and the rest just more work than advertised.

There are fun parts too, of course.  All of us are home this summer and this will not be true after August so I’m going to enjoy that part immensely.  That’s the thing about raising kids – they grow up and find things to do that aren’t nearby and then they’re off.  It’s how things are supposed to work.  So I’ll enjoy my time with them this summer.

The Women’s World Cup is on, and that’s also been good.  I enjoy the women’s game, probably more than the men’s, since they tend to rely on thinking and tactics rather than simple brute athleticism.  Makes a more entertaining game.  And the Stanley Cup Finals were captivating as well.  You have to love the “worst to first” story of the St. Louis Blues, and even more the fact that they kept the most drearily entitled sports fan base in America from claiming yet another championship.  It’s the little things.

I haven’t had much focus on blogging this month, though. 

It’s been hard paying attention to politics, for example, since der Sturmtrumper and his minions, lackeys, and enablers are systematically destroying everything worthwhile about the United States and turning this country into a national disgrace and an international embarrassment even as his supporters continue to see nothing wrong with opening actual fucking concentration camps inside our borders, aggressively pursuing bullshit wars (which they have no intention of rushing to the front lines for, you’ll note), and turning the place into a medieval society of nobles and peasants through a campaign of economic warfare and political suppression against everyone not rich, white, male, and so right-wing that Francisco Franco would tell them to ease off a bit. 

Plus I spend most of my time in front of a computer as it is.  I really need to stop that.

So I’ve been trying to read more, and planning some other activities that don’t necessarily involve the computer, at least to the extent that I can.

Posting may be light for a while, is what I’m saying.  We'll see.

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Grading Across State Lines

I spent the last week down in Louisville grading AP exams, which is a strange way to spend some of your summer vacation but there were about 1700 of us so there is some safety in numbers I suppose.  It’s a long drive, but it was better than trying to squeeze in a short flight and probably faster when you figure in all the things you have to do just to get onto a plane these days.

They put us up in a giant hotel right on the Ohio River, about two blocks from the convention center.  I spent most of my time shuttling back and forth between those two places, so I can’t really tell you much of what Louisville is like beyond that.

They did throw us out into the city for dinner one night and my roommate’s former student had recommended a barbecue place called Momma’s Mustard, Pickles, & BBQ so we found it – it’s way out in a nice little neighborhood, far from the downtown area – and had a marvelous meal, undoubtedly the best one I had in my time there.  On the way back we stopped at a place called The Manhattan Project – mostly for the name, I’ll confess – and sampled some bourbons because that’s what one does in Louisville.  They were good bourbons, in good company.  Plus, the waitress let me keep a menu to show my students next time we do the atomic bomb class, so win all around.

For those of you who have not had the pleasure of grading APUSH exams, it’s quite a process.  They train you pretty hard the first day since consistency is critical, but then they just keep bringing you folders full of essays and you grade and grade and grade and they spot-check you here and there but after a while they mostly figure you’ve got it.  And you do.  My total for the week was 778 essays, which was pretty good for a new guy, I was told.  Not up to the veterans, but there you go.

I liked my tablemates – they were friendly people.  A mix of high school teachers (all of whom teach the APUSH class), college teachers like me, and graduate students, we all got along fine.  My table leader was supportive and good to us.  The runners who brought us the folders full of exams were nice as well.  And my hotel roommate was a lot of fun – whoever paired us up did a bang-up job of it. 

Still not sure I’ll do it again next year, but I gather that’s a common reaction to the process.  It really is a grinding thing to grade essays for a week solid.  Ask me in January.

You’re not allowed to talk about specific essays in a public forum like this one – even if you take out the identifying details – because really, they’re kids and you shouldn’t be doing that to kids.  The part I ended up grading is, for most of them, the last thing they do on an exam that has lasted all morning and which comes at the end of a year-long class designed specifically to take this exam.  It is, as my statistics professor once described the process of putting final edits on a textbook, “the very end of the very end of a reasonably horrible process.”

So no details.

But there were a few general things I learned during this process, things not connected to any particular essay, and I figure those are mine to share. 

1. When I am Grand Vizier of Creation, one of my first actions – not in the first month, but up there on the agenda somewhere – will be to impose mandatory penmanship classes. 

2. If I remember only one thing about the grading process it will likely be my ID number, which I had to write down and then fill in bubbles for on every score sheet.  It got to the point where I’d put the number down in the slot for my name and have to go back and erase it.

3. Somewhere last month there was a sale on scratchy black pens, and most of them were purchased by high school students across the country.

4. Sometimes you look at an essay that’s about [Not The Question] and you think to yourself, “Well, they’re not wrong…”

5. My next band will be named “John Locke and the Social Contract.”

6. The exams come grouped by school and you can really tell when a teacher has a catch phrase.  Students remember.

7. Benjamin Franklin was a man of many talents, some of which probably would have come as a surprise to him if we’re being honest here.

I also learned a few things about Louisville itself while I was there.

1. There is good food in Louisville if you get far enough away from the convention center.

2. The place is famous for its bourbon for good reason, too.  Oh yes, those were tasty.

3. Downtown Louisville is not good for pedestrians.  Drivers there don’t really watch out for you.  No, no they do not.

4. On the other hand, if you get a chance to walk around downtown Louisville you might as well take it.  There are some interesting buildings and artwork, and you just might decide to get a closer look at a particular statue in a public plaza and stumble across a photographer and two topless models working on a project.  I’m not sure if this is something that happens all the time in Louisville, but it certainly brightened the day for me and my roommate.

Monday, June 3, 2019

Pride and Privilege

So it’s Pride Month.

There is a part of me that has never quite understood the whole notion of Pride events.  You are who you are.  You should be okay with that.  Why do you need a parade and a manifesto?

The part of me that doesn’t understand all that?  That part of me is what we call “the privileged part.” 

Because when you get right down to it, I am pretty much the poster child for privilege in this country.  I’m a straight white middle-class cis-male, more or less able bodied, well educated, reasonably articulate, at least nominally a member of the dominant religion, and conversant in all of the major sports to some degree or another. 

The thing about privilege is that it makes things easier.  Doors are open for me that aren’t open to others.  Most of the people with power in this country look more like me than not.  If there is a doubt to get the benefit of, that benefit will be mine.

Perhaps most tellingly, I never have to explain myself to anyone.  I never have to justify my existence to anyone.  I am, in fact, the default standard by which people are judged in this country.

And just for the record, you have no idea how goofy I find that notion, living inside my head the way I do.

But there it is. 

The simple fact is that I don’t need a Pride event because nobody has ever told me that I shouldn’t be proud of what I am.  Nobody has ever tried to make me feel bad about what I am and they wouldn’t succeed if they did because that’s the armor privilege gives to you.

There are far too many people in this country who cannot say that.  Whose lives are made more difficult because of the privilege afforded to me.

There are far too many people in this country who are constantly being told that they should feel bad about who they are because of what they are, or more directly what they are not.  Because they’re not straight.  Because they’re not white.  Because they’re not middle class.  Because they’re not cis-males.  Because they’re not privileged.  Because they’re not, well, one or more of any number of damn-fool criteria that the simpleminded use to define themselves as Not Them.

Fuck that.  There is no Them.  There is only Us, in all of our diversity.

This is a lesson that we seem to be doing our best to forget here in this petit-Fascist time we live in, when the political and cultural war on being female, being poor, being non-white, being LGBTQ+, being anything other than the cardboard cutout poster child that I am, in other words, is in full swing.

It’s a costly forgetting, one measured in lives.  People die because of this, and this fact should never be forgotten.  People die because they are told they don’t matter, in ways large and small, every day of their lives, until they believe it themselves or until some idiot decides to believe it for them and acts on that.

Yeah, no.

So it’s Pride Month.

And for whatever it may be worth to anyone, I say good for that.  It’s not really my call to make, of course.  But good for that anyway.

If you are being told that you don't matter because you are not precisely like the privileged, know that this is pure unadulterated nonsense.  You are loved as you are.  You matter as you are.

It’s Pride Month.  Be proud.